MORE than 70% of England’s farmland is now in Environmental Stewardship schemes, setting a new record for the take-up of agri-environment programmes.
That accounts for 6.5 million hectares of land which is now being managed to deliver benefits for wildlife and the environment, with around 60,000 farmers, conservation organisations, smallholders and commons associations.
Around £400m is invested through Environmental Stewardship into the environmental management of England’s farmland each year.
Poul Christensen, chairman of Natural England which manages the schemes, said: “The fact that well over two-thirds of England’s farmland is now being managed with the support of Environmental Stewardship is clear evidence of the commitment that land managers are making to help look after our countryside and wildlife.
“The farming sector along with the conservation and industry groups in the Campaign for the Farmed Environment (CFE) partnership have played an important part in helping land managers to reach such a significant target and we can be justifiably proud of this achievement.”
Jim Egan of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, who chairs the CFE’s delivery and communications group, said: “The vast majority of farmers and land managers view support for the natural environment as part and parcel of running productive farm businesses and the news that over 70% of England’s farmland is now covered by an agri-environment agreement is a very positive result.”
As of November 5 last year, there were 52,605 active stewardship agreements in operation in England including 7,274 involved Classic schemes – such as Countryside Stewardship – that are no longer open to new entrants. Natural England is now targeting projects that offer the most wide-ranging environmental gains.
Environmental Stewardship schemes have been running since 2005 and have brought earlier agri- environment schemes under their wider umbrella. Agri-environment schemes have now been in operation in England for 26 years.
The schemes have four key aims: to promote public access and understanding of the countryside; maintain and enhance landscape quality and character; protect the historic environment and natural resources; and conserve biodiversity.